Friday, May 25, 2012

Life Lessons from an unexpected teacher.

My new teacher has yellow hair, a sweet smile and a lot of patience. She also loves to go for long meditative walks in the woods and eat bird poop.

Meet my teacher, Jilly. She’s a yellow Labrador Retriever who came into my life as a Guide Dog Career Changer. Translation: She didn’t do what they wanted her to do. So, they found her a new home with me. Her new job was to be a normal, house dog. My new job was to teach her to come, heel and be a normal family dog. At least that’s what I thought.
Of course, I was wrong.

Jilly started lessons from day one. The only problem was she had a very slow student. Me.

As an expert teacher in the art of letting go, Jilly saw right away that I was going to be a very difficult student. She ran off, and I tried to control her. She ran off again and again until finally one day, I just sat down, with tears streaming down my face and let go. That’s when Jilly appeared and tapped me on the forehead with her muzzle.
Teaching the art of meditation and walking, Jilly meanders through the woods, stopping to take in the energy all around her. Knowing that I smell nothing, she pauses continuously, hoping that one day, I will catch a whiff of the wonders around me.

Teaching the art of acceptance, Jilly continues to walk the path of life rain and shine, snow and heat. She stops to look, listen and sniff. Again, she has patience with her student who groans in pouring rain, slathers herself in smelly sunscreen, layers herself against the softness of snow fall and complains in the heat. Jilly, forges on and models her lesson. No matter what the weather, Jilly finds ways to enjoy herself.

This week, as I slogged my way home in a drenching rain, all I could do was sigh and groan about my soggy jeans and shoes. I turned to Jilly and saw her walking next to me with calm dignity and a muzzle dripping with rain. She didn’t complain. Today, as my mind was whirling with to-do’s and worries; Jilly was sniffing the fresh, green grass.

I’ve learned quite a few life lessons from my dog, Jilly. But I think she’d agree, I still have a lot to learn.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Clay in process.

I love clay. I love wedging it, throwing it, coiling it and sculpting it. I thought I’d show a few pieces going through the stages from throwing, sculpting and under glaze.

Here are a few pictures from ‘throwing day’. These are jars, vases and cup right off the wheel.
And now, with hand built leaves and pulled handles.

Now, with under glaze applied and ready for bisque firing.

How these will turn out after the final glaze is the big question. I’ve learned that under glazes don’t always turn out the same color from cone 06 to cone 6 and clear glazes can change the color a lot. It’s a bit frustrating to have a vision of how the piece will turn out only to have the glazes behave differently.

There are things I can control and things I can’t. I know that’s part of the process.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Graffiti doesn’t belong on trees.

I’ll admit it. I’m ambivalent about graffiti in public places. I see the spray painted designs, words and murals as art with a message for all of us. Artists need canvases. Without it, frustration builds up and an outlet gets found on train cars, old buildings, streets or sidewalks.

I always believed this outburst is non-violent and needs to be redirected not punished. I still do. Even when someone spray painted this on my favorite cedar tree.

Yes, I was shocked and upset to see one of my treasured trees defaced. But then, I thought about all those people who carve their initials into the trunks. They may see it as an expression of love. Others see it as defacement. I see it as putting a healthy tree at risk for infestation or infection. I was happy to see less of this violent defacement in the last few years. I took it as a sign that people heard the environmental message and had a new reverence for the trees living in the forests and parks.

But I saw a different kind of sign in the spray paint on the tree.

Indifference. Irreverence. Ignorance.

There was no design here. No thought. No art. Just someone with a can of paint and a need to flip off the can lid, push the button and let the paint fly where it may. It didn’t do any ‘damage’ to personal property. It’s probably not against the law.

But I wonder, did the person stop to think about the tree? About what the paint and aerosol chemicals might do to it now and in the long run? How it might seep into the layers of the tree and cause damage? Concrete can be washed, repainted and repaired.

The 40 foot tall cedar tree cannot.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Reading pleasure.

I love to read. A good book is an enjoyable adventure into a new world. Some books become like old friends, cozy, comfortable and fun to be around no matter how you feel.
The books I’ve read lately are new to me, but not new on the market.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
It delivers. Yes, it’s a YA(young adult) novel but that doesn’t bother me. I’ve found so many good novels in the YA section and this is another one to add to my list. A compelling story, well written, great dialogue, it’s a page-turner. Three people recommended this book to me long before it hit the silver screen. I just read it, thanks to a generous gift from my son-in-law, Colin. I can’t wait to read the other 2 in the series.

If you are curious about other YA authors, I highly recommend Philip Pullman, Lani Taylor, Charles deLint to name a few.

Under the Dome by Stephen King
It’s a great story on many levels. Similar in scope to The Stand, it brings back many of King’s key character types along with moral and environmental dilemmas that link the local and global with the universe. But, it’s long. With over 1,000 pages, I really feel if King wasn’t such a famous author someone would have edited the beginning a little tighter and cut back on some of the mid-section character analysis that slows the pace of the story. However, nobody can get into a character’s head like King. I really liked the book and recommend it.

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
A story revolving around red-neck loggers in a small town, it’s not my favorite subject matter. I usually love books told in first person narrative. I like getting inside each individual character’s mind and understanding their story. But Kesey struggles with this form sometimes having two people speaking in one paragraph. He tries using parenthesis at the beginning to help the reader figure out which character is telling the story, but it just doesn’t work. It’s confusing and slowly paced. There are areas of beauty and genius but they are few and far between. Kesey was very well known when this book was published and obviously not edited. Too bad. I did like the way he used a song connect the narratives of the different characters, a nice cinematic touch.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don’t.

Unloading the kiln is like unwrapping a present. You don’t really know what’s inside and whether you’re going to like it or not. This time around, I liked some of the pieces a lot and others not. Now do you want the good news first or the bad?

The good news: The black sgraffito bowl at bisque stage is wonderful.
The bad news: Clear glaze turned the black under glaze cobalt blue. So instead of black and white piece, I have a blue and white piece. Not what I wanted at all.

The good news: Cloud white glaze on two cups and a bowl turned out beautiful.
The bad news: Gloss turquoise under glaze handles turned out matte and rough. Hmm.

The good news: My son loved his manly mugs with the comfy thumb rest.
The bad news: The teal blue under glaze color turned blue. He wanted teal. I painted on 3 coats of it, covered it with a clear glaze and waxed out before dipping the body in satin black only to have all my work turn a deep cobalt blue. Grrr.

The good news: Clear under glaze covered evenly on the ribbons and leaves on the bowl.
The bad news: Maroon under glaze turned awful shade of puke pink.

The good news: Copper patina glaze on the leaves and handles is a rich color.
The bad news: Three coats did not give me the smooth finish I was told would happen.

The good news: The color both glaze and under glaze on the 3 spoon holders came out just the want I wanted.
The bad news: One stuck to the kiln shelf and came out in pieces.

More good news: I love this simple white bowl with leaf handles. My simplest and least complex piece in both throwing, sculpting, under glazing and glazing came out the very best. I did under glaze the leaves at greenware stage, after bisque I brushed the leaves with clear, waxed them out, and then poured the body with cloud white.
The bad news: I could have saved myself a lot of work by just dipping the whole bowl in clear glaze. Because I threw the bowl in porcelain, the body would be naturally white, no need for white glaze.

Sometimes, I did get what I wanted. And sometimes not.

But here’s the best news of all: I learned a lot. I wrote down a number for each piece, documented what I did at each stage, and then recorded the results. I figured out why the black under glaze turned blue. I now know which black under glaze to use to get the black and white sgraffito I want. And now, I can decide to use that mistake of black to blue when I want a deep, cobalt blue and white piece, too. I also learned that I can use a clear 06 glaze that’s guaranteed not to change the under glaze colors and that using it can save me all that waxing out in some cases because I can just dip the whole piece in clear and fire it. Yeah!

Just like the song by those wise Rolling Stones, I can’t always get what I want. But if I try…sometimes I can get what I need. Indeed.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Beginnings and endings: From mud to porcelain.

The transformation amazes me every time. Clay starts out as earth. You wedge it. Throw it. Trim it. Paint it with under glaze, oxides or colored slips. Heat it and cool it. Color it again with glaze. Heat it up again and cool it again. And that dull, drab lump of mud becomes colorful, strong porcelain.

This week, I finally finished glazing a dozen mugs, bowls, a few little vases and spoon holders. The next morning, I fired up the kiln on one side of the garage. Then I went to work on the wheel on the other side. After I threw a couple of vases and a jar, I trimmed the bowls from last week. As I worked on making new pieces, I waited for my timer to tell me to turn up the heat in the kiln to finish the other pieces.

I always thought that throwing in the cold garage while the kiln was hot would make it more comfortable for me. But that didn’t seem to be the case. I’ll admit. My throwing was a little thrown off and I wasn’t sure why. Later, after I’d cleaned up outside, had lunch and taken a shower, I realized what was going on.

Firing a glaze load is the completion of a creative cycle. Throwing is the beginning.

Usually when I’m firing, I don’t throw. I clean up or write. In other words, I give myself that day to acknowledge the completion of a body of work. It’s in the kiln, now, and it’s time to let go. Letting go is not something I do easily. I worry. I hope. I pray that all my work will come through the final firing process in one piece. And that the glazes will turn out better than I hoped when I was painting, pouring or dipping. I may have a kiln sitter to decide when the firing is complete. But I wait, watch, peer anxiously through the peep hole.

As the kiln fired, I had a hard time centering my clay on the wheel. My pulling was off on every piece. Instead of pulling straight up, the clay was off to one side and had to be corrected. Each piece was literally leaning toward my left. The kiln was sitting across the garage to my left.

I was not centered on my wheel. I was centered on my kiln. And all my fears of letting go were spinning out on my wheel. Endings and beginnings can be hard, especially if they happen at the same time. Glaze firing days are cleaning up days not throwing days.

Now I see. Endings and beginnings need to be honored on their own.

Seeing this clean, empty shelf as an opening and an opportunity to begin again. One day at a time.